A Roving Commission: or, Through the Black Insurrection at Hayti
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"We will put you ashore first, sir; this is the only boat we have that will float."
Captain Crosbie on landing went among the women, who were between seventy and eighty in number. Some burst into tears when he spoke to them, others seemed dazed and quite unconscious that they were being addressed. Feeling almost unmanned by the moving spectacle, Captain Crosbie was relieved when the two boats filled with men entered the mouth of the cove. As soon as they came alongside, the men leapt out in high spirits at the prospect of having a share in the fray. Mr. Hill had already picked out twenty of his own party.
"I will myself take the command here, Mr. Hill. I don't wish to interfere with the credit that you will gain by this affair, therefore I leave the arrangement of your party in your hands."
Mr. Hill marched the seventy men straight up the hill.
"You will march straight on, Mr. Marston, until you reach the edge of the cliff, then you will return. See that the men are placed at regular intervals. You will then face to the right and the line will advance. No quarter will be given, except to men who throw down their arms and beg for it. I do not suppose that many will do so, as they know what their fate will be if they are taken to Port Royal. We have reason to believe that there cannot be more than eighty or so on this side, but if they keep in a body and make a rush at the line they will no doubt be able to break through. However, that we must risk, and I hardly think that they will attempt it, for they know that they must sooner or later fall into our hands. They will only starve if they conceal themselves. Some may prefer death in that way, or may think that after we have left they may manage to get taken across to the mainland in native fishing-boats. However, search the ground closely. These men are steeped in blood; they have been the scourge of these seas for the past five or six years, and have never yet shown mercy."
Mr. Hill then placed himself in the centre of the line, while Mr. Marston again took his place on the right. It was not until they had worked round nearly to the entrance that opposition was met with; then they came upon a spot where a mass of rock cropped up among the trees, and as they approached this a sharp fire of musketry broke out. Mr. Hill ordered the two ends of the line to advance so as to form a semicircle round the rock. When they were in position he gave the word to charge, and with a cheer the sailors dashed forward. Led by their officers, they scrambled up the rocks like cats, discharged their muskets into the pirates grouped on its summit, and then threw themselves upon them cutlass in hand. In three minutes all was over; not a man asked for mercy, but all died fighting desperately to the end. Four of the sailors were killed, several severely wounded. These were carried or helped down to the shore, and the rest of the party then scattered through the woods; but the closest search failed to discover a single man in hiding, although only some fifty of them had been accounted for.Returning to the point from which they had started, the party then proceeded to search the forest at the other side of the cove.
Here, however, they met with no resistance. A few dead were found, but the forest was deserted. After searching in vain for some time it was concluded that the survivors had probably gone down the face of the cliff and hidden there in caves or in thickets in places that could only be reached by men well acquainted with the ground.
After two hours' vain search, Mr. Hill led the party down to the shore again. While he had been away the captain had had the storehouses opened. These were filled with booty of all kinds, the plunder of at least fifty ships, as they judged by the chronometers, the marks on bales, and other articles. Here were thousands of cases of wine, ranges of barrels of rum, hogsheads of sugar, coffee, and other colonial produce, quantities of bales of cotton cloths used for the slaves, furniture of all kinds, enormous numbers of trunks and boxes containing wearing apparel, bales of silks and satins, and an immense amount of table-linen.
In the centre of one of the storehouses was a chamber constructed of stone four feet thick with an arched roof. The entrance was closed by two iron doors, one within the other, and these were so strong that it was necessary to drag up a six-pounder cannon to batter them in. When at last an entrance was forced, the strong-room was found to contain upwards of seventy thousand pounds in coin, hundreds of watches, and a large amount of jewellery, much of which was of Spanish manufacture, and a great many church vessels and ornaments of silver. It was evident that, although no doubt a certain proportion of the spoil had been divided at the time of capture, the main bulk had been stored there for division some day when the haunt should be finally abandoned. The sailors now set about examining the bodies of the pirates who had been killed on the shore by the explosion. It was found that in almost every case they wore belts under their clothes, and that these contained from ten to a hundred pieces of gold. A systematic search was then made, and, in all, the money found upon the dead pirates amounted to six thousand pounds, which was added to the store taken from the treasury.
The work of emptying the storehouses, getting up jury-masts on board the Cerf, and doing the absolutely necessary repairs to her and the prizes occupied three days. The women had been placed in the brigantine after the craft had been thoroughly washed down and scoured, and she had been taken out and anchored near the frigate, to which the wounded had all been conveyed as soon as the fight was over. On the evening of the third day the storehouses and other buildings still standing were all burned, the cannon were taken on board the frigate, and the next morning the four vessels got up sail and started in company for Jamaica. Nat was left in command of the Cerf with fifteen men. Low was in command of the schooner with twelve men. Mr. Marston had charge of the captured brigantine with fifteen men, all that could be spared from the diminished crew of the frigate. Nat had had time, when the long day's work was over, to row off every evening to see Needham, whose arm had been amputated an hour after the fight was ended. He was, the doctor said, going on well, and was in very good spirits.
"This is sure to give me my step," he said to Glover. "I shall have served my time in six months, and Marston's rank will of course be confirmed, now that poor Playford's death has made the vacancy permanent. You have another year to serve, have you not, Glover?"
"Yes, rather more. However, of course this affair will help me too, as soon as I have passed."
"It ought to, old fellow, considering you were the only officer left on board the Cerf, and that you unfastened the boom under that tremendous fire, to say nothing of carrying the schooner and running the risk of being blown up when you went on board the brigantine. You will get your swab as soon as you have passed. You see it has been a big thing; fifty-eight men killed and a hundred and four put down as wounded; and the breaking up of this pirate's nest makes it the most important affair there has been out here for years. The other ships on the station will all feel quite jealous of us. There will be a goodish bit of prize-money, too, which is not to be despised. Over eighty thousand pounds in gold and, I should say, over twenty thousand pounds in goods, makes even a midshipman's share something considerable. How is your arm, Glover?"
"Well, it has been hurting me a bit. I am not conscious of having used it particularly, but I suppose when I was thrown down by that explosion it must have got wrenched somehow."
"Well, if I were you I would ask Dr. Bemish to have a look at it."
Glover did so. It was black and blue from the shoulder down to the elbow, and very tender to the touch.
"I don't think anything is broken," the doctor said, "but it has been a very close shave. At any rate, it is just as well that I should put on splints and bandage it, and you must take to your sling again and keep to it for some time. It is not tender above the shoulder, is it?"
"No, doctor; I think it is all right there."
"That is lucky. You ought to go on the sick-list."
"I cannot do that, sir. It would be giving up the command of the brigantine, and I would put up with anything rather than that."
They had fine weather and a leading wind to Jamaica, and their arrival there with the two captured prizes and the news that the piratical haunt had been completely destroyed, created quite a sensation, which was heightened by the rescue of so many females from the hands of the pirates. Some fifteen of these found friends in the island, and the scene when they were handed over to them was painful in the extreme. A third of the number were French, and there were also some eighteen Spaniards. All were temporarily taken in and cared for by families at Port Royal, and were sent off as soon as opportunity offered either to the islands for which they had been bound when captured, or to their friends in Europe.
Mr. Hill, in his report, had done full justice to the work done by the Cerf, and had mentioned Nat's going on board the brigantine to drown her magazine, and the great service that he had rendered in covering the advance of the sailors by the guns of that craft, and in inflicting such heavy punishment upon the two parties that had attempted to possess themselves of the batteries, and the admiral sent for him and personally congratulated him on his work.
"I will see that as soon as you have passed, Mr. Glover, you shall have your commission as acting lieutenant. I have not forgotten what Captain Crosbie told me of your gallant action at Cape Fran?ois."
Mr. Hill was at once appointed to the command of a frigate whose captain had died of yellow fever, and received the rank of commander pending its confirmation from home; and Mr. Philpot, second lieutenant of that frigate, was appointed first lieutenant of the Orpheus in his place. The schooner and the Cerf were sold, for the latter had suffered so much damage forward by the fire concentrated upon her by the pirates' ships that she was considered unfit for further service. The other brigantine was bought into the service. The plunder taken was sold by auction, and the proceeds, together with the sum fetched by the three prizes, brought the total up to one hundred and five thousand pounds, a larger sum than had ever been captured by any vessel on the station.
The new brigantine was re-christened the Falcon, and Mr. Low was placed in command, with two midshipmen from other ships on the station under him. She was not, like the Cerf, a tender to the Orpheus, as the frigate could no longer spare a crew for her, having, in addition to the loss in action, been obliged to send thirty men to hospital on shore. The brigantine was therefore manned by drafts from other ships of war on the station. Needham was also left on shore, being promoted at once to the rank of lieutenant, which left Nat for the time senior midshipman of the Orpheus, which was now directed to cruise in the neighbourhood of Hayti, where complaints had been received of vessels being missing.
Two months after leaving Jamaica the Orpheus again put in to Cape Fran?ois. Nat was still wearing his arm in a sling. There had been a good deal of swelling and inflammation, but this had now abated, and in his opinion his arm was perfectly well again, but the doctor insisted that he should as a precautionary measure still use the sling. The frigate needed some repairs, having carried away some spars in a hurricane a week previously, and on the day of their arrival the captain sent for Nat, and said kindly:
"We shall be here for a week, Mr. Glover, and the doctor thinks that another run among the hills will do you good, therefore you can go and stay with your friends there until we sail again. If you return this day week that will do. You have stuck to your work well, for Doctor Bemish said that for the first month at least you ought to have been on the sick-list, and at any rate you deserve a holiday for your share in that fight."
On landing Nat went first to Monsieur Duchesne's office. The planter had but just driven in, and his horse and trap were still standing at the door. The negro driver gave a friendly grin as he saw him.
"Glad to see you, sah, bery glad; eberyone will be glad. Hope you all well, sah?"
"Thank you, C?sar. All well at the plantation, I hope?" and he went into the office, where he was most warmly received by Monsieur Duchesne.
"I had been told that your ship came into port at daybreak, my dear Monsieur Glover, and I should have come off to ask after you as soon as I had answered my letters, and to carry you off if the captain would give you leave. But I see your arm is still in a sling. You have not hurt it, I hope?"
"I hurt it in that fight we had with the pirates. I dare say you heard of it."
"Everyone has heard of it," the planter said. "It was splendid, and there is not one here who does not feel grateful indeed to your ship for having rid us of all those scoundrels, who have been doing us so much harm for years. You have not hurt it much, I hope?"
"It was bad for a bit, but it is all right again now. The doctor orders me to keep to the sling for some time longer, though I am sure there is not the least necessity for it."
"And now about your leave, shall I go off to the ship, think you?"
"The captain himself gave me leave this morning for a week without my even asking for it."
"That is good news indeed. My carriage is at the door; I fortunately told C?sar to wait, as there are some things to take back. My wife and Myra will be delighted to see you, they talk of you always, and will be glad indeed to have you with them again. My boy has gone out to buy the matters required by madame, he will be back in a few minutes."
A quarter of an hour later Nat was on his way out to the plantation, where he was received with a welcome of the warmest kind by Madame Duchesne and her daughter. Both were greatly concerned at finding that his arm had again been injured.
"It is hard indeed," Myra said, "that I should be so well and strong again, and that you should still be suffering for what you did for me."
"I do not think," he said, "that that business has really anything to do with the last one. A pirate ship blew up close to us; the shock was tremendous. The masts of the brigantine I was in snapped off as if they had been carrots, everyone on deck was thrown down, twelve were killed outright, and the rest of us were all a great deal bruised and hurt. The doctor said that he thought my arm might very well have been broken even had it not been for that accident, and as I came off better than most of the others, I certainly have no reason to complain. It is really quite well again now, and I can use it for almost all purposes. I consider it absurd that I should wear this sling, and would take it off at once, only the doctor made me promise that I would generally wear it; indeed, on board I always took my arm out when I wanted to use it, and he said himself that a certain amount of exercise was good for me."
Monsieur Duchesne came home as usual just at sunset. Nat noticed that at dinner he was evidently preoccupied, though he endeavoured to join in the conversation as cheerily as usual. After the ladies had left the table he said:
"You may have noticed that I am distrait, Monsieur Glover, but it is an anxious time for all of us on the island, and has been so, indeed, for some time. You see we are divided into three classes: there are the pure whites, the mulattoes, and the negroes, and even these are subdivided. There are the old settlers, men who, like myself, belong to noble French families, and who, I hope, keep up the best traditions of our country; there are the poor whites, landless men who are discontented with their position, and hate those who are better off, while they stand aloof from the mulattoes. These, again, are equally divided. Many of them are rich men with plantations. They send their sons and daughters over to France to be educated, and take it much amiss that we, who are of pure blood, do not associate with them. Then, again, there are the negroes, who number no fewer than five hundred thousand, while we whites are but forty thousand. We went on well enough together until the States General met in France. It was a bad affair that, for us as well as for France. From that time there has been a ferment. We sent over deputies, eighteen of them, but the Assembly only allowed six to take their seats, and while they snubbed us, the young mulattoes were treated with the greatest favour.
"Then came the news that the Assembly had passed a declaration asserting all men to be free and equal. You may imagine what a shock this was to us. Some of the mulattoes, in their excitement, took up arms to show that they were free, but they were easily put down. However, when the National Assembly heard of the excitement and dissatisfaction caused among the French in all their colonies, they made another decree authorizing each colony to elect its own legislative assembly. Our assembly here lost their heads on finding power in their hands, and passed a constitution which practically renounced all allegiance to France. Some riots broke out, and things would have been very serious had not, on the eleventh of October last year (1790), a decree been passed by the National Assembly modifying the former one. However, on the fifteenth of May they passed another, declaring all people of colour in the French colonies, born of free parents, entitled to vote for members of the colonial assembly, and to be elected to seats themselves.
"When the news came here six weeks ago, you can imagine the excitement. Meetings were held, and it was even proposed to throw off allegiance to France and to hoist the British flag instead of ours. Happily calmer thoughts came, and matters cooled down, but there can be no doubt that the state of affairs is critical. The mulattoes, who outnumber the whites, do not know how to contain themselves with joy, and disputes between them and the whites take place daily. Then there are the negroes. You see, the decree does nothing for them. It is hard to know what the negroes think, even whether they care that they are not to have a vote is not known to us. It is clear that it would be of little advantage to them, and, you see, no one who was not out of his mind could think of giving a vote to them, for their vote would be five times as large as that of the whites and mulattoes together. We should have an assembly composed entirely of slaves, and these slaves would at once vote that all the land and property in the island should be divided among themselves. What think you of that, Monsieur Glover?"
"It would be madness indeed," Nat agreed.
"Then, you see, even if they did not do that they would declare themselves free, and we should all be ruined. Sapristi! it makes one's blood cold to think of such a thing. But, nevertheless, the negroes are like children, they can be led by a little talk, and among them there are men of some intelligence who could work the rest up to a state of madness. I do not say that this will come – Heaven defend us from such a calamity! – still, monsieur, you will comprehend that we all feel as if we were sitting on the edge of a volcano. Such strange things happen. What may not occur next? You will understand that I do not talk of these things before my wife and child. They, of course, know about the past, but as for the future they do not trouble themselves at all. I have spoken to some of my friends, and they laugh at the idea of the slaves rising. They say, truly enough, that they are far better treated here than in your British colonies. But then there has been no revolution in England. People have not been stirred up to a state of excitement. The nation has not lost its head, as in France. I say that it is possible there may be trouble with the slaves."
"Not here, surely, monsieur? Your negroes seem to me to be contented and happy, and I am sure they are well treated."
"That is undoubtedly so; but, as I told you, the negroes are like children, they will laugh one minute and scream with rage the next. There is never any saying what they may do. I can hardly bring myself to think that such a thing could happen, but I have taken to carrying pistols in my pockets, and I have stored some arms in that closet in the hall; at least I should have them handy, and I doubt not that the house servants will remain true, and I hope many of my slaves. It is for this that I have gathered the arms together."
"But surely you would have warning?"
"At the first whisper I should, of course, drive my wife and child down to the town, where we should be safe, for there the whites are strong, and we have no fear of an attack. However, we must trust that such a thing may never happen, or that if it does, it may be in the far distance. But come when it will, everyone should receive warning in plenty of time to make all preparations. It seems to me impossible that a plot of any magnitude could be passed from end to end of this island, and be known to so vast a number of negroes, without some of them warning their masters of the danger, for there are tens of thousands who are almost like members of their masters' families."
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